Via Alan Boyle’s Cosmic Log blog, I am very pleased to find out that the mothballed SETI telescope array will soon be operating again!
As I reported here a few of months ago, the SETI Allen Telescope Array had to be shut down due to a lack of funds. It costs roughly $2.5M per year to keep it running, and the funding agencies were pulling back. The folks at SETI decided to create a public fund drive called SETIstars, hoping to raise the $200,000 needed to kickstart the project again.
As of a few days ago, that goal was reached! I was happy to see that people such as Jodie Foster (who played SETI astronomer Ellie Arroway in the movie "Contact") and science fiction author Larry Niven were among people who had contributed, as well as Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders.
The $200k donated is enough to get things started again, but not enough to continue operations, so it looks like there will be more fund (and awareness) raising soon by SETI. I think this is a pretty interesting endeavor; SETI has long been a political and scientific target, but they are doing good work in a variety of fields of astronomy and biology (for example, I recently wrote about a new meteor shower discovered that indicates there’s a previously-unknown near-Earth comet out there — this was funded in part by SETI). I don’t know how sustainable direct public funding of scientific projects can be, but SETI is making a pretty good stab at it. I’ll be very curious to see how this pans out.
Back in April, I reported that SETI’s Allen Telescope Array — a 42-dish setup in northern California that scans the skies, listening for signals from potential alien intelligences — had to be shut down due to lack of funds.
This bad news resulted in something of a public outcry, and a grassroots organization sprung up to try to help rectify the situation. They started the website SETIstars, where people can donate to restart the ATA. They have the relatively modest goal of reaching $200,000 in donations, which is enough to get the array restarted; SETI can then leverage on this to try to get more funding flowing (the array takes about $2.5M a year to run). You can learn more about this on their info page.
As I write this they’ve raised over $20,000, 13% of the goal, with just over a month to go. If you support them, please go take a look and do what you can.
If aliens call, who will listen?
For the past couple of decades it’s been astronomers and engineers at SETI, the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence. But a desperate lack of funds has forced them to mothball their Allen Telescope Array, a group of 42 radio dishes in northern California.
The budget crisis has hit nearly everyone, and with states nearing bankruptcy it’s no surprise that a lot of science is getting curtailed. But SETI represents something noble and good about science, something we do both because of its deep philosophical ramifications and also simply for the joy of finding things out. So it hurts a little bit more to hear this.
SETI astronomer Seth Shostak gives the rundown on the situation. And there’s a little bit of salt in the wound because SETI was just ramping up to start investigating the exoplanets recently found by the Kepler mission as well. For the first time in human history we’re finding systems outside our own where habitable planets may exist. I think it’s worth giving them a listen.
But that won’t happen for a while at least. The array costs about $2.5 million per year to run, and that money simply isn’t coming in; there are several funding agencies — including the eponymous Paul Allen — but as the SETI press release puts it:
In an April 22, 2011 email (PDF) to Allen Telescope Array stakeholder level donors, SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson described in detail the recent decision by U.C. Berkeley, our partner in the Array, to reduce operations of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory (and thus the Allen Telescope Array) to a hibernation state effective this month. NSF University Radio Observatory funding to Berkeley for HCRO operations has been reduced to approximately one-tenth of its former level and, concurrently, growing State of California budget shortfalls have severely reduced the amount of state funds available for support of the HCRO site.
Knowing my readers, some of you will want to help. SETI has a donation page. I talked with Seth yesterday and he told me "every little bit helps".
And hey, if you happen to know a millionaire who happens to be able to look a little bit beyond the next day or two of market fluctuations, you know where to send them.